A tender, poignant celebration of love, loss and longing, William Finn’s Elegies: A Song Cycle brought a tear to the eye and a glow to the heart of the lucky few to fill Bennett’s Lane last night.
Like speed-reading a book of short stories, each as compelling as the last, Elegies gives us a bittersweet glance at a collection of keenly observed, readily engaging characters. There is a distinct sense of Jewish New York to the lives on show, but, like the best short story writers, Finn gives each of us moments of clarity and vision. A particular moment for me came with Anne Wood’s prickly school ma’am, a childless, unmarried woman who reflects that “Only One” student who has been touched by her teaching is enough.
Having just watched new telemovie The Normal Heart, I also found the sprinkling of AIDS-related stories to be particularly moving. Finn has clearly lived through, and been profoundly affected by, the crisis chronicled in The Normal Heart, a period he also portrayed so beautifully in Falsettos.
With six supremely talented performers (five singers and pianist/musical director Vicky Jacobs), there was little for director Stephen Wheat to do staging-wise other than let these singing actors bring their vocal flair and unique expression to this treasure chest of polished gems. As sole accompanist, Jacobs provided a lush sound while maintaining the lightest touch on the keys. Wheat coaxed natural, confident performances from the cast, resulting in renditions so personal they seemed to be the actors’ own stories.
As well as scoring tears from this reviewer with “Only One,” Wood brought her distinctly elegant, polished stylings to “14 Dwight Ave, Natick, Massachusetts,” in which a dignified Boston woman says goodbye to her cherished world and precious son.
Martin Croft’s warm expression illuminated “Mark’s All-Male Thanksgiving,” a song of memories of dear friends that Croft seemed unavoidably affected by as he sang one of its reprises. “Venice” was also an especially heart-rending number from Croft.
Impressing with his powerful vocals, John O’Hara also displayed his ability to switch from lively sparkle to serious reflection in an instant. “Mister Choi and Madame G” was an early winner from O’Hara, with upbeat “Joe Papp” (about theatre legend Joseph Papp) another welcome light moment amongst the more somber ballads.
Ed Grey used his cheeky grin to great advantage as he sang “My Dogs,” then broke our hearts later with “When the Earth Stopped Turning.”
Naomi Livingston did full justice to the tour de force “Passover,” later contrasting this beautifully with the gentle “Anytime (I Am There).”
A brilliant opportunity to see the raw talent of music theatre stars away from the overblown production values of their mega-musicals, Elegies: A Song Cycle was a highly memorable winter treat. If an encore performance is announced, attendance is strongly recommended for lovers of fine writing and gorgeous music.
Elegies: A Song Cycle played at Bennetts Lane, Melbourne, Monday 11 August 2014.
Photos: Emily Cascarin